Spa Hopping and Beer Tasting in Germany’s Black Forest

The Romans had a terrible time marching through the dark masses of spruce, pine, and fir in the aptly named Black Forest. They said it was impenetrable and inhabited by wild beasts and barbarians. And sensibly they—like their fierce predecessors the Celts—seldom ventured far into its depths.

A classic black forest scene

A classic black forest scene

But today, I’m pleased to report that although 81% of the Black Forest area is still covered with dense greenery, it is well and truly open to all visitors. With its forested slopes and picturesque mountains that rise 4,000 feet above the Rhine Plain, it’s not surprising that tourists have been attracted to the region since the 18th century.

The tourists come to hike to its clear streams and cascading white waterfalls on hot summer days. And to gaze across postcard vistas of verdant green farming valleys sprinkled with rustic timber homes, with the snow-capped Vosges Mountains in the far distance.

My Black Forest foray certainly contrasted greatly with those of the Romans. Instead of fighting the locals, I came to be pampered with their spa treatments. I came to sample fine regional cuisine in two of Germany’s best restaurants instead of hunting and spit roasting a wild boar over a roaring fire. And I came to taste delicious, chilled mini-micro brewery beer with a charming and eccentric brewer high atop a mountain, with a valley view that went for fifty miles.

Another view of theBlack Forest with farm houses, forest, and fields

Another view of theBlack Forest with farm houses, forest, and fields

The Black Forest runs north for a 100-mile swath from the Swiss border and extends 37 miles from east to west. It’s one of Germany’s favorite playgrounds, offering a wide variety of activities from tennis to golf and from boules to curling.

But hiking is the Black Forest’s main stock-in-trade, especially in the northern Freudenstadt district. The tourist slogan for Baiersbronn, a small down-to-earth village of 15,500 people (that includes nine tiny sub-communities), is ‘Baiersbronner Wanderhimmel’, meaning ‘Baiersbronn Hiking Heaven’.

Baiersbronn’s trails are legendary in length and number, ideal for Nordic walking, hiking tours, wildlife tours, and cross-country skiing. With an area of only 190 square kilometers, Baiersbronn is crisscrossed with 340 miles of sign-posted hiking trails.

During my stay in the Black Forest, I soon came to realize that accommodation is very much a part of the overall experience in the Black Forest. In fact, it’s the very essence of visiting the area.

Heselbacher Hof Hotel & Spa. Get your beer treatment here

Heselbacher Hof Hotel & Spa. Get your beer treatment here

People come here to stay in comfort at resorts and to relax and hike and mountain bike in the clean air. Visitors to the Black Forest play golf and swim, and have saunas and other treatments in ritzy spas. The Black Forest, with its friendly people, has a reputation as the ultimate unwinding destination—and rightly so. If you can’t relax here, you’re a lost cause!

Glasmannie-Brau Brewery

My first Black Forest stop was at the Glasmannlehutte, a rough-hewn hiking lodge. Strategically located on a well-frequented hiking trial called the “Path of Enjoyment to the Glassmannlehutte”, the pine log lodge is perched way up high on a mountaintop with a marvelous view over the peaceful green valley and Baiersbronn.

Known for its eclectic mix of natural paths, unique landscape, and good signposting, the trail lures hundreds of hikers of all ages here every day through the summer. And of course, a popular hiking trail means a multitude of hungry and thirsty hikers, which is where energetic restaurant proprietor Klaus-Peter Letsch enters the picture.

The lodge is charming enough, but Klaus-Peter is what makes the place tick. He’s the host, chef, and brewer, preparing simple, but delicious meals and handcrafted beer, for parched and starving hikers.

The snacks, called “Verspern”, are an important German ritual while hiking in the Black Forest. The sweaty hiking groups sit down around thick wooden tables and a huge platter of food is plunked down soon afterwards.

Sampling a verspern at the glassmannlehutt. Does this look good or what?

Sampling a verspern at the glassmannlehutt. Does this look good or what?

The food tray overflows with thick brown slices of home-baked bread, local honey, sweet and sour pickles, mustard dips, sliced Black Forest ham, thin slices of deli meats, and jellied meats and creamy cheeses. Our food disappeared within a few minutes, washed down with Klaus-Peter’s superb Keller bier (cellar beer). This is all frightfully German, I think, as I gobble Klaus-Peter’s deli meat and treats and gulp down his beer. Beer hikes are also an integral part of Baiersbronn tourism—the tourist office gives out official Beer Hiking maps.

Klaus-Peter proudly shows us his small copper brewing tanks. They’re the smallest I’ve ever seen—only a couple hundred gallons—so I’ve invented the term mini-micro brewery to describe them. We smell his hops (from Yakima, Washington) and his German malt. Klaus-Peter serves his thick Keller bier (cellar beer) with a huge foam head. It’s great! This guy can brew. He brews small batches almost every day to guarantee a fresh new brew for the hikers. Germans, as we know, are discerning beer drinkers.

Klaus-Peter Letsch shows us the hops he uses with brewing

Klaus-Peter Letsch shows us the hops he uses with brewing

After our meal, Klaus-Peter insists on driving me down the mountainside in his surplus Bundeswehr army truck. He knows I’m a military vehicle aficionado and this gives him an excuse to have some fun. We bounce and jolt our way down steep dirt trails and hair-raising hairpin curves with Klaus-Peter laughing all the way. He barely speaks any English but we are bonded by the moment and having a great time.

Klaus-Peter shows us his office overlooking bairesbronn

Klaus-Peter shows us his office overlooking bairesbronn

 Spa Treatments—With Beer!

My host, Nicole, my charming young blond German guide from the tourist office, follows us down the mountain, collects me, and then drops me off at the Heselbacher Hof Spa for some spa and beer treatment. This time though, it’s external.

The Heselbacher Hof Spa

The Heselbacher Hof Spa

I’m given a massage followed by a beer exfoliation, and finish by soaking in a warm lavender-scented bath. I haven’t smelled this good since my wife accidentally put me through the laundry. After my beer ingestion and beer exfoliation, I’m practically in a coma, and Nicole pours me back to my hotel, the Bareiss.

Tucked away on a hillside above the hamlet of Baiersbronn lies one of Germany’s—and indeed Europe’s—finest luxury resorts, the legendary Hotel Bareiss. (More about this awesome resort follows under “Accommodation”).

Hotel Bareiss

Hotel Bareiss

The hotel’s management wants me to sample regional dishes and have booked me for dinner at the Dorfstuben, their cozy little family-style restaurant. It’s decorated like a 19th century house. Iconic old Black Forest clocks, 19th century family portrait photographs, and old spring capped bottles, dot the Dorfstuben’s knotted pine walls. Old thick wooden tables complete the rustic atmosphere.

The Bareiss Hotel Restaurant Wintergarten

The Bareiss Hotel Restaurant Wintergarten

The traditional local dishes are superb . . . and they just keep coming. Everything in the Dorfstuben is home made and home cooked. Fragrant home-baked bread, sausage salad, cream of celery soup, freshly smoked Black Forest ham, fried Maultaschen (Swabian ravioli), oven-roasted duck, their trademark Cherry Cake, Black Forest gateau, and Swabian apple pie. Seriously, I sampled all of these dishes.

And the next morning, the Bareiss’s breakfast and buffet selection almost defies description. The dessert island, (aka the ‘cake buffet’), and the cheese and deli island, despite my most valiant efforts, had me defeated after three or four platefuls of delicacies. But I did return 2 hours later for a second attempt.

The Bareiss pool Wintergarten

The Bareiss pool Wintergarten

This then was my introduction to the Black Forest. As a travel writer I tend not to revisit the places I’ve visited previously, but I’d be back to the Black Forest in a flash, given the opportunity. And you too should visit this rural paradise . . . you won’t regret it.

 Hotel Bareiss

The Hotel Bareiss is the sort of place where you roll up in your gleaming black Mercedes and toss the keys to a smartly dressed young valet. There’s no need to discuss parking your car—he just does it with crisp efficiency.

The resort has, at times, been listed as the winner of Europe’s Best Resort Hotel by several magazines, ranked among Europe’s 100 best hotels, and considered one of Europe’s 10 Best Wellness Hotels,

I was only scheduled for two nights in this renowned resort, and determined to make the most of it. The staff here doesn’t just slap your room key card down and expect you to schlepp your own luggage to your room. No sir. They escort you to your beautifully appointed room, and your luggage is waiting patiently for you when you get there. You’ll also find a flute of champagne and a deli plate of cured German meats and tasty cheeses in your room.

Outside view of the Hotel Bareiss

Outside view of the Hotel Bareiss

The Bareiss resort’s rooms are decorated in pastels with that perfect blend of understated country elegance and taste, with not the slightest hint of gaudiness or over-the-top opulence. Once hunkered down in my room, I didn’t want to leave. But a tour of the property is practically obligatory for travel writers, and so it was with my visit.

My room in the Hotel Bareiss

My room in the Hotel Bareiss

My tour of Hotel Bareiss took in five fine restaurants and a spa that simply blew me away. It was like taking an expedition through a foofoo paradise of pools, tastefully arranged decorative foliage and expensive deck chairs and pool recliners. The expansive 4,000 square-feet spa offers a never-ending array of massage whirlpools, freshwater pools, treading pools(?), and seawater pools, and a list of treatments as long as your arm: saunas, steam rooms, solariums, Jacuzzis, massage therapy, manicures, pedicures, and other beauty treatments that, if my arm were twisted, I’d gladly accede to.

The Bareiss pool Wintergarten

The Bareiss pool Wintergarten

The Bareiss is a sizeable resort, boasting 8 single rooms, 33 double rooms, 48 apartments, and 10 suites, but you’d never know it. The whole place is artfully situated into a mountainside, belying its size. And the rooms have every electronic and digital convenience known to man—I won’t bore you with the list, but you name it, it’s there.

The Bareiss even has its own hiking trails and satellelei hiking hut, which is a lot more luxurious than it sounds—you can slog up to the hut and feast on freshly prepared local delicacies to replace all those calories you have just burned up. And I don’t just mean light snacks either: they serve savory pancakes, sausage salad, meatballs, Gaisburger Marsch (stew), oven-fresh meatloaf, and apple strudel and Black Forest gateau.

Fine Dining at the Hotel Bareiss

Claus-Peter Lumpp is the master chef at Hotel Bareiss, and his restaurants are listed among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The wine cellar stocks 20,000 bottles with 1,000 assorted labels. Bareiss also boasts 75 different champagnes and 65 digestives.

Wellnesshotel Heselbacher Hof

Another top spa and wellness hotel, also in Baiersbronn is theWellnesshotel Heselbacher Hof, . Ask for their beer treatment.

Baiersbronn Tourist Office

Written by Roy Stevenson for EuropeUpClose.com

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